Support began to mushroom on Monday for Red Deer jail guards who walked off the job in support of their co-workers at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
Red Deer members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, including guards from the Red Deer Remand Centre, walked out on Saturday in support of a wildcat strike at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
“It’s not about money, it’s about safety — officer safety. We need to make sure they’re going home to their families,” AUPE vice-president Jason Heistad said from the Red Deer picket line on Monday morning.
There are safety issues at all corrections facilities, but the issues in Edmonton are urgent and need to be resolved for the safety of both staff and inmates, said Heistad, an Innisfail resident employed at Olds College.
Workers from various AUPE locals have joined the Red Deer job action.
They are also getting support from federal corrections workers, he said. A number of federal corrections officers from Bowden Institution joined the Red Deer picket line on Monday.
Remand centres house a full spectrum of offenders alongside people who are awaiting hearings. The inmate population includes men, women and teenagers who have been recently arrested and some may be still coming down from drugs or alcohol, as well as those who are serving sentences of less than two years.
“I’ve got friends that work in the federal system, and they do believe that because there is a diversity of offenders in the remand centre, that it is more volatile than some of our federal correctional facilities,” said Heistad.
As of Monday afternoon, Alberta sheriffs responsible for courthouse security had not joined the strike in Red Deer. They will when the time is right, said Heistad.
Sheriffs at the Red Deer Courthouse remained on duty on Monday, backed up by other peace officers from other departments, including Fish and Wildlife.
However, other public service staff, including sheriffs, court clerks, and social workers have joined the strike elsewhere.
Red Deer lawyer Patty MacNaughton, acting as duty counsel in Red Deer provincial court on Monday morning, said the job action had not yet had a direct effect inside the courthouse.
MacNaughton said she supports the correctional officers’ job action, stating that their walkout appears to be the only way to get action from their employer, the Alberta Government.
“It’s not like it’s about money. It’s about safety,” said MacNaughton.
Defence counsel Lorne Goddard also spoke in support of the action, saying the corrections officers had no other choice in trying to get the attention of an “uncaring” government.
Heistad said the AUPE had tried to negotiate safety concerns with Alberta Justice, but went out on strike because their concerns weren’t being heard.
“At the end of the day, throughout the province, we want to make sure that our workers are safe, and this is how things culminated up in Edmonton and these brothers and sisters are here to support them,” said Heistad.
Red Deer guards had been notified that they were to return to work, said Heistad. However, as of Monday afternoon, the number of people picketing was still growing and the guards had not yet laid plans to leave the picket line.
Senior administrators and RCMP were brought into the remand centre to take charge in their absence.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk disputed the AUPE’s position on safety at Edmonton Remand in a press conference held on Monday afternoon.
Lukaszuk said the union and the Occupational Health and Safety division of Alberta Human Services had signed off on the facility prior to its opening on April 19.
Lukaszuk told reporters that the issue boils down to a dispute between a worker and that worker’s boss, and that he has seen communication from another guard who claims he was misled by the union.
Lukaszuk said that, if there are safety issues, they will be dealt with immediately but must be raised through the proper channels. He said there are procedures in place to deal with job safety and that an illegal strike is not one of them.
Deputy Solicitor General Tim Grant said police officers from the RCMP, Edmonton and Calgary Police are filling in for striking guards.
Grant estimated the cost at $1.2 million per day, which he described as very costly, even in government terms.
Insp. John Haney, representing RCMP headquarters in Alberta, said a contingency plan for this type of emergency is working and that some inmates have said they actually enjoy being served by RCMP.
There have been isolated incidents, but nothing out of the ordinary since police officers were moved into provincial remand centres, said Haney.
The province has launched a civil action against AUPE, stating that the union is in contempt because it did not compel members to return to work when they were ordered to do so.
The action was to take effect as of 5 p.m. on Monday.